By Theresa Russell
Situated on the Inside Passage along the Gastineau Channel and surrounded by nature, Juneau is an ideal spot for active outdoor pursuits. With over 90 developed hiking trails, a cycling path, lakes and the sea complemented by an abundance of fresh air, you would be hard pressed to find another location offering so much variety in such a compact area.
With limited time in port, we had to carefully plan our day’s activities in advance. That is more easily said than done.
So Many Hiking Choices
We had a tough time deciding which of the many hikes to choose, finally narrowing it down to three. The hike up to Mt. Roberts caught our attention because it offered several different options for us. We could hike up to the top of the tramway and take that back down, we could take the tramway up and hike farther beyond that point or do an out and back. In the end, considering everything that we would pack into the day, we opted to take the tramway in both directions when we returned to the cruise port area.
Our second hiking option was the Perseverance Trail, even though the name itself made us wonder about the difficulty of this particular trail, which would take us to the site of former gold mines. The possibility of experiencing this 3.5-mile historic trail and seeing remnants of the past appealed greatly to us, as did the fact that it was easily accessible from downtown Juneau. After much consideration, we opted to do the East Glacier Trail near Mendenhall Glacier for several reasons: we were headed to Mendenhall Glacier anyway and this trail would be very convenient for combining whalewatching and bicycling so we would save transport time as well.
The East Glacier Trail
The East Glacier Trail only has a 600-foot elevation gain, so we felt comfortable with that amount of challenge. The trail also passes through several different ecosystems that we could easily identify as we walked along. We encountered many types of mushrooms along the trail, their hues obvious on the green background of the forest. Entering into an area carpeted with moss, we felt like characters in a fantasy movie. In fact, rather than looking for bears, we half expected to see a fairy appear from behind the giant erratic rocks that dotted the forest.
Leading to a view above Mendenhall Glacier, the East Glacier Trail follows a loop with a distance of about 3.5 miles. We used our walking sticks to forcefully click on the ground every so often to scare away the bears that we had been forewarned about by a sign at the trailhead. To further thwart any nearby grizzlies, we also talked constantly, foregoing serenity for safety. Fortunately, we never saw a bear.
Our climb was fairly gradual and we encountered just a few other hikers on the trail. Views of the lake and glacier remained on our left side almost the entire way until we approached the viewpoint overlooking the glacier. We had hoped to be a bit closer to the glacier face, but were still quite distant at this point where we continued our loop back in the opposite direction. The smells of forest assaulted us, much preferable to being assaulted by a grizzly.
At the end of the trail, we descended 565 stairs. We would rather have climbed up those stairs and done the trail in a counterclockwise direction. But the advantage to the clockwise direction is the views of the lake and glacier. We reached the Visitors Center and explored several of the shorter, easier paths where we spotted grizzlies fishing in a stream.
A Pleasant Pedaling Path
Knowing that there was a paved cycling path that ran from near the glacier back into town, we had rented bicycles and pedaled around and back to town on this convenient path. The folks at
You might think that it would be hilly riding in Alaska, but the trail is mostly flat with a few short climbs when you exit the path and ride on the road. Cycle Alaska suggested several mapped routes, but we had time for just two. There are convenient bike racks at the Mendenhall Visitors Center where we left our trusty steeds while hiking.
More to Discover
After our full day of exploration, we wished that we had had more time to experience a few more of those 90 trails in Juneau. The colorful kayaks on Mendenhall Lake called to us, but we will have to save that trip for a future visit. We pedaled back into downtown Juneau, stopped at the Alaska State Museum, took the Mt. Roberts Tramway and finally boarded our ship. And all of this happened after a morning whale watching tour!
Watch the video for more sites around Juneau.
About Theresa Russell
Claiming her lust for travel began on her first journey through the birth canal, Theresa is genetically programmed to travel and to have fun doing it. She especially enjoys adventure and experiential travel and always finds something at a destination to write home about.